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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

September 10, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Kent teachers strike: Spend some time in teachers’ shoes

To protect teachers’ rights and public interest, introduce binding arbitration

No matter which side you believe is right in the labor dispute between Kent’s teachers and their district’s management, we can all agree teachers should receive fair contracts and a teachers strike is never in the public interest. So when negotiations reach an impasse, how can they be resolved without teachers applying the pressure of a strike?

The answer is simple: Give both sides the right to request binding arbitration when contract negotiations on a particular issue have stalled.

State law does not guarantee or prohibit a right to strike for teachers, but state courts have always granted injunctions against teachers that choose to strike because of the “irreparable harm” a long strike would potentially cause.

State law specifically bars police and firemen from striking, but the law gives them the right to binding arbitration when they hit an impasse in bargaining to preserve some semblance of a level playing field during bargaining. If teachers can be forced to work by the courts even when they do not have a labor agreement, they absolutely need the ability to bring in a fair and neutral arbitrator during bargaining to help them ensure disputes over contract provisions can be resolved quickly and fairly.

This simple reform would dramatically streamline negotiations, thereby saving taxpayers and unions a lot of money and completely eliminating the annual ritual of looming strikes in Washington schools every September.

The Washington Education Association should organize a ballot initiative to change the law in Washington state to specifically provide the right for arbitration wherever state law will not provide the right to strike.

— Pat Mead, Maple Valley

Fine striking teachers, cut administrators’ positions, salaries

Each and every one of Kent School District’s striking teachers should be fired or at the very least fined at least $500 per day retroactive to the first day of the strike. In addition, they should work the full 180 days but receive no pay for the days on strike.

If class size is the issue, then teachers should give up any pay raise and give money back so the district can hire new teachers.

However, on the other side, the district needs to rid itself of half the administrators and reduce salaries. What they make for what they do is downright obscene.

— Lynn Folsom, Issaquah

Think the strike is bad? Try being a teacher

As a former high-school English teacher and football coach, I understand the Kent Teachers’ Association’s position and support their strike. The attitude of some members of the public and the Kent administrators needs adjustment.

They want and expect teachers to go into classrooms with 30-plus kids, and within a 55-minute period, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages and instill in them a love for learning. They want and expect teachers to check the kids’ backpacks for weapons, counsel them on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases and raise their sense of self-esteem and personal pride. They want and expect teachers to teach kids patriotism and good citizenship; sportsmanship and fair play; and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook and apply for a job.

They want and expect teachers to recognize signs of anti-social behavior, and make sure the kids all pass the final exams. They want and expect teachers to provide an equal education regardless of the kids’ disabilities while communicating regularly with parents in English, Spanish or any other language by letter, telephone, e-mail, newsletter and report card. And they want and expect teachers to do all that and more with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books and a big smile.

All that and more is expected of teachers on a salary that qualifies most of them for food stamps. Yet teachers are castigated for striking for smaller classroom sizes, more time with their students and a pittance of a raise in salary.

— Patrick Watson, Federal Way

Teachers are fighting for the quality of education

My wife and I have wisely decided to have only one child. The reason is not because we don’t like children, but because it is much easier for us to manage if we only have one rascal than to have more than one.

My heart goes out to Kent School District teachers on strike, and I give them 100 percent of my support for their sad plight.

If I whine because it is tough to manage one child in my household, how much worse would it be if your job is to manage around 30 students in a single class by yourself at least six hours a day everyday? That is a mountainous job.

I don’t blame teachers for their courage to go against the court injunction to go back to school to teach. Disobeying the court order doesn’t mean teachers don’t have regard for our court of law. It does mean that if they decide to go back to work against their consciences, the quality of education will certainly be affected.

Picture yourself as a teacher with 32 students of different ethnicities, traits, characters, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes. Do you think it’s easy to manage that big of a class? I bet it would drive you nuts!

— Warlie Villasencio, Kent

Teachers need time in detention

While I’m sympathetic to the goals of Kent School District’s striking teachers and value the bargaining process, the teachers’ decision to defy a court order is not OK.

They are teaching now in a very dramatic and visible way, as all adults do by their actions, that the judicial system doesn’t apply to them — only everyone else, I guess.

Will students respect guidance from teachers expecting rules to mean something when those expecting to be respected have publicly violated what a judge says? Will students feel respect for teachers who ignore the law, and instead of doing their job while continuing to negotiate, as professionals, have treated a court order the same way a hoodlum would?

This isn’t OK. Kent teachers need to go to detention.

— Kevin Grossman, Shoreline

Comments | More in Education, Education reform, Families, Labor, Teachers

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